Saturday, January 10, 2009

Ashmead's Kernel ***

What an apple, what suavity of aroma. Its initial Madeira-like mellowness of flavour overlies a deeper honeyed nuttiness, crisply sweet not sugar sweet, but the succulence of a well devilled marrow bone. Surely no apple of greater distinction or more perfect balance can ever have been raised anywhere on earth.

This lovely russet with the charming name has a rosy orange blush beneath its suede overcoat. Unblushed skin is green. It is a small medium and has large lenticels that are all rusetted over. The fruit's calyx is open but very shallow, and it has a pleasant faint smell of tea.

I got two of these in early December, past their prime. I've tasted Ashmead's Kernel once before, and though I did not record my impressions I remember strong lemon and sugar notes and crisp firmness. The example shown in my photo is the only one I have seen with any sort of a blush. It's attractive, but possibly overripe.

The flesh is a firm tender coarse yellow, tart and quite sweet with nice citric acidity. I find when a stored apple has lost some crispness or flavor that the area around the equator of the fruit goes first. Tasting around the poles of this sample still yields some lemon-drop flavors, also faint hints of pear and nutmeg. Try Ashmead's Kernel for yourself if ever you get the chance.

In the best of all possible worlds I would taste every fruit at peak. In this world I found these in a supermarket that had a box of heirlooms from an orchard in New York. (Credit where due: this was not just any supermarket.) And I am glad to get them, along with two Esopus Spitzenbergs that I will taste soon.

According to Staub, Ashmead's originated in Gloucestershire 300 years ago but was not introduced in the U.S. until the 1950s.

18 comments:

  1. I have one of the trees - in Gloucestershire. You are right - the fruit is wonderful. The tree was slow to fruit (hardly any until 7 years old) and is quite erratic.

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  2. Thanks for stopping by! I have read that these can be difficult to grow. They certainly are not easy to find around here.

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  3. I planted an Ashmead's spring of '07, am impatiently waiting for the first four apples to ripen in probably another month here in Spokane. In reading up on this cultivar, am intrigued to find folks growing it and singing its praises from Edmonton, BC to Riverside, CA, west coast to east. Seems to be a tough customer when it comes to growing conditions.
    And no, I have never tasted it - yet.

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  4. Ashmead's are 'shy bearing,' but it's like the tree concentrates sugar and flavor in the few fruit that are produced.

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  5. Not too long ago, a pretty comprehensive study of apple and pear genes was conducted in the UK by DEFRA. One of the remarkable things that they learned was that there are many "erratic bearers" that were thought to be diploids that are actually triploids (sterile pollen). This means they need to be planted in close proximity (and at a similar bloom time) to a couple of diploids to be able to produce a decent crop. Turns out Ashmead's Kernel is one of these triploids, as is Roxbury Russet.

    To see the full list of triploids they uncovered, just do a Google search for DEFRA and for "Fingerprinting the National Apple & Pear Collections."

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    1. @Litawyn, I wonder if the application of this information will reduce Ashmead's reputation as a shy or erratic bearer.

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  6. Hi there Adam, I live in Somerville and bike through Arlington every day on my way to work in Bedford. We do live in a great place to get uncommon apples. I've eaten quite a few Ashmead's, but every time they have been picked by my friend Ben Polito at Poverty Lane orchard in New Hampshire. It really is a fantastic apple, though I admit I am partial to the russets. I can't recall ever seeing it at the farmer's market or the supermarket.

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    1. Holly, a nice commute. Are you hard-core all-weathers or a fair-weather cyclists like me?

      I will know I am dreaming the day I see Ashmead at Stop & Shop, but Kimball Farm was selling them at farmers markets in September. Picked a bit early alas.

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    2. I'm in the hard core all year bike commuter camp. Sometimes I take the 62 bus from Alewife (often with my bike on the front), and sometimes I have the car, but mostly I ride. I've got carbide spiked tires, headlights, goggles, and a whole layer system of clothes for any condition. Worst is rutted ice on the path, which happens not infrequently!

      I'm hoping to teach myself to do framework grafting this spring by practicing on the various crab apples that grow along the minuteman path in a few places in Arlington. Inspired by the Guerilla Grafters group in San Francisco.

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  7. Ashmead's Kernel is wonderful. In my sunny climate red showing through the russet was typical. Great taste; too bad I had not learned about its triploid status, nor its tardy bearing until years after giving it away! Ah well, now D'Arcy Spice and Hunt Russet are started in my yard. Maybe they will better meet expectations.

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    1. Hunt Russet! Herr Bumpus, you are full of surprises.

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    2. Hunt Russet began life out back in '14, and I am trying a few more russets besides D'Arcy (which is blooming first time as I write this!): Golden Harvey, Claygate Pearmain and Medaille d'Or. I hope both Hunt and Golden Harvey will prove to be the mainstay russets, with little fuss and maximum delight.
      Have you seen the D'Arcy Spice depicted on the cover of Rowan Jacobsen's excellent "Apples Of Uncommon Character"? Nice color; good read.
      BTW, I chose Nutting Bumpus as a moniker to raise awareness of a Maine apple derived from Duchess of Oldenburg.

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    3. @Nutting: I should have guessed an apple! I was wondering if your nom de pomme was somehow taken off from Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans.

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    4. Never have encountered Nutting Bumpus in this area. In fact, since Washington state was settled so late in our nation's history, almost any older apple is hard to find.
      Since last writing I have run into copy regarding Brownlees Russet. It has many of the strengths of Ashmead's - like flavor - without the drawbacks: self fertile midseason (pink!) bloom, precocious, heavy crops and slightly smaller tree. I hope to graft it next season and see how it does on the dry side of Washington. Have you tasted a Brownlees yet?

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  8. Last week I picked up an Ashmead's Kernel at the farmer's market in Boston by South Station; I believe it was from Kimball Fruit Farm. Fabulous. I was really excited to try it because I'm growing one and had heard they're wonderful but had no idea what to expect. Excellent dessert apple. Crisp, sweet, tart, spicy, a complicated, intense taste that was very appley without invoking any other associations other than apple. You could tell it would be a great general purpose apple, good for cooking and cider as well as eating out of hand.

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    1. They are really exrtaordinary when you get a good one. A marvel to find at farmers market next to the Cortlands and the Galas.

      Is this one of the ones you are growing?

      Kimball's has had these for the past few years. I think this is their first really big harvest, and to make things even better they seem to finally be resisting the urge to pick too soon (a weakness of theirs).

      I just ate one right now typing this, inspired by your note. Cheers!

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  9. Just bought a bag at our Farmers Market, so good. Here's a link to the organic grower we buy from: https://www.elafamilyfarms.com/farmers-marketscsasevents/fruit-calendar

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    1. What an impressive catalog of apples! Not huge, but deep.

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